William J. Flynn, who played a role in Irish peace talks in the 1990s, died of natural causes at his home in Garden City on June 2. He was 91.
After his death, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney tweeted that Flynn was “a giant of Irish America + key figure in US support for peace on the island of Ireland.”
The son of Irish immigrants, Flynn was involved in talks with Protestant Loyalists and Catholic Republicans in Northern Ireland that eventually helped lead to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of violence.
Flynn also was president, CEO and chairman of the board of Manhattan-based Mutual of America Life Insurance Co. for more than two decades, and he was on the boards of many nonprofits.
Flynn was born in Manhattan on Sept. 6, 1926, grew up in Queens and moved with his wife, Peggy, to Garden City in the 1960s, said his son, William K. Flynn of Manhattan. He received a master’s in economics from Fordham University.
Flynn had been approached multiple times to contribute to Northern Irish causes, but he always refused because he worried the money could end up buying weapons, his son said.
“My dad studied for the priesthood,” Flynn said, referring to how in the 1940s his father attended the Roman Catholic Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor. “He was a faithful man. He didn’t believe in violence.”
At a conference in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s he met Martin McGuinness, a leading voice in Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army. That led to a meeting with Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s leader.
“He was convinced when he met Gerry Adams that these guys who were reputedly IRA members — he thought he could trust them, that they really wanted to find a peaceful solution,” Flynn’s son said.
Adams said in a June 3 statement that Flynn was “a champion of peace in Ireland” and someone who “played a pivotal role in creating the conditions for the IRA cessation [cease-fire] in August 1994 and in opening up political support in the USA for the Irish peace process.”
At the time of the cease-fire, Flynn was chairman of the Manhattan-based National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a national security think tank; earlier in 1994, the committee hosted Adams in New York during the Sinn Fein leader’s groundbreaking U.S. visit.
Flynn had become chairman of the committee in 1993, and “he strengthened it considerably,” including by stabilizing its then-shaky finances, said George Schwab, co-founder and former president of the organization. Flynn gave the group free space at the Mutual of America building on Park Avenue — space it still occupies.
Flynn became president of Mutual of America in 1971, later becoming CEO and chairman of the board.
Under his leadership, Mutual grew from a small retirement association to a Fortune 1000 company.
“He provided visionary leadership and he invited every one of us to participate,” said Thomas Moran, chairman emeritus of Mutual. “A true leader, which Bill was, will have an idea and share with you and invite you to make it a better idea, and then you have an ownership in it as well.”
In addition to son William and wife Peggy, Flynn is survived by daughter Maureen Flynn Welsh of Garden City, brother Hugh Flynn of Garden City, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His sons James E. and Robert H. Flynn, and his sisters Anne Higgins and Caroline Hayes, preceded him in death.
Interment was Wednesday at Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.